Surfing Guidelines

What Lies Beneath


When heard for the first time, this statement always gets the same reaction from any beginner/intermediate surfer. Their usually happy-go-lucky, up-for-anything, calm faces flash a look of sheer panic when the word “reef” is mentioned.


What is a reef break?

A reef break is a wave that breaks over anything that is not sand. It can be coral, boulders, bedrock, shipwrecks or even artificially created reefs using sand bags.  Some reefs can be jagged and nasty while others can be flat and covered with moss.

“Is it safe?”

The simple answer, very often, is “Yes”.  Reefs get a bad press because there are many perceived dangers associated with reefs that, in some cases, can be fully justified.  Waves like Pipe in Hawaii and Teahupoo in Tahiti are incredibly powerful breaks with shallow, sharp reefs underneath them and are extremely dangerous (not an ideal place for your first lesson!).  However, for every super heavy reef break there will be a mellow, cruisy reef around the corner that will have perfect waves, even for complete beginners.  Calm reef breaks have many advantages and, as long as you are aware of the potential dangers, surfing a reef can be very safe and, in most cases, easier than a beach break.

“Will I hit the bottom?”

Sure, you might, but when was the last time you hit the bottom at a beach break?  If you are surfing “out the back” there should be very few times you have actually hit the bottom hard.  If you are hitting the bottom often when surfing, it might be time to reconsider your whole technique – aiming for the bottom is not exactly the goal when surfing!

When surfing a reef, there are a few wipeout techniques needed that you might not have considered when surfing a soft, sandy beach break. Obviously, diving head first into the water is not going to end well (and, really, you shouldn’t do this at a beach break either!). When wiping out, fall backwards (off the back of the board) and onto your back so you don’t penetrate the water, covering your face and head with your hands.

You’re also likely to hit the bottom if you ride the wave straight and into the shallow part of the reef. The goal will be to trim across the wave into a nice, deep channel or to pull off the wave before it gets too shallow. When riding a reef, you never want to “ride the wave all the way to the beach” like you do when surfing whitewater at beach breaks because the “beach” will be shallow and often sharp, rock or coral. Bad for your board and fins…and bad for your poor little toes! You should not have to put your feet down very often on a reef (it’s not good for the coral or marine-life anyway), but if you do, you’ll find that wearing reef booties will save your feet from any nicks and scrapes from the bottom.

So, as long as you don’t paddle yourself out at Pipe on an NSP during your second surf session, there is every chance you will survive surfing a reef break.

See, there’s nothing to worry about! And the advantages to surfing a reef break greatly outnumber any of your concerns.


Reefs have a fixed peak.

The real advantage to a reef is that the bottom is fixed.  This means that the wave will always peak up in a similar place, unlike a beach break where the sand is constantly moving. A fixed bottom reef makes it much easier to be in the right place when the waves roll in.

"Swimming Pools" Fiji

Reefs have a fixed direction.

At a good quality reef you will either be spending your session going left or trimming right. It will always peel in the same direction, at the same spot. This takes out a lot of the variables and can help you progress quickly, unlike a beach break where the waves break at different spots and will peel in all directions.

Reefs have channels.

This is the real beauty of surfing a reef.  Channels are areas of deep water next to a reef where, no matter how big the waves are on the reef, the water is always calm.  This means no more fighting your way out the back through mountains of whitewater after each wave! Hallelujah!  At a good reef break you will be able to paddle around the waves (in the channel) to get yourself back into position. Sweet! Having a channel also gives you a place to relax in safety in between sets if it all becomes a bit overwhelming.

Reefs are predictable.

One of the most over quoted lines in surfing is “no two waves are ever the same”.  This is true,  but you can get waves that are pretty damn close to the same on a perfect reef break!  With the waves breaking at the same spot (more or less), you’re going to catch more waves. You won’t have to “hunt your waves down” like you do at a beach break. If you can catch a lot of similar waves in a session, then it’s easier to experiment and try new techniques which will increase your rate of improvement. Sounds good to me!

You can surf from a boat.

Sick of paddling, duck dives and turtle rolls? Get dropped off at the peak, surf your brains out on predictable, quality waves, and then paddle back to the boat without having to do the “reef dance” (balancing, leaping, falling while climbing over dry reef to the shore).  And nothing is better than a cool beverage on deck after a few short paddle strokes.

A large percentage of the best breaks in the world are over reef, so don’t let such a little word scare you. Next time you hear the word “reef” get excited, not scared! Just make sure you surf reef breaks that are suitable for your level.

Here is a quick list of super mellow reef breaks that are suitable for all levels (even complete 1st timers).  Don’t let the fear of surfing over a reef put you off.

Swimming Pools, Fiji
Tortugas, Costa Rica (Close to our base in Nosara!)
Farms, Secret Atoll, Maldives
Wakiki, Oahu, Hawaii
Shark Bay, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands
Medewi, Bali, Indonesia
Nonyas, South Male Atoll, Maldives
Boneyards, Fuerteventura, Canary Islands
Inside Puena Point, Oahu, Hawaii

Cruising at "Nonya's" AKA "Bushi Corner" in the Maldives


Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Rules of Surfing

So, why do we need rules for surfing? It’s a sport that’s all about having a free spirit and enjoying the ocean, right? Well, that’s very true if you’re lucky enough to be surfing on your own or just with some good mates (these are always the sessions you remember). However, surfing is growing more and more popular by the day and as a result there are more people in the line up than ever before, especially on the weekends. Crowds are more and more becoming a fact of life at a lot beaches, but it should not mean the end of having fun in the surf.
There are some simple, unofficial rules of surfing which help to keep the lineup properly managed when there is a crowd. These rules were first popularized in the 60′s during the first surfing boom and a lot of them still ring true today. All of these rules are designed to keep people safe and also rewards the surfer who takes off in the best position on a wave.
The following rules are really important and you should be aware of them if you are planning on surfing for the first time, especially in a busy lineup. These rules are recognized world-wide and you will get yourself a lot less potential grief in the surf if you know them.
Here is a comprehensive look on the rules of surfing with a few added tips to make your next experience in the surf a better one.


When a wave rolls in and several surfers start paddling for the same wave, it’s the surfer who’s closest to the peak that has priority. So, when you’re paddling, be aware of who’s around you and who has the right of way. If you’re closest to the peak, take it! If you’re not, let the other surfer go and get in a better position for the next wave.

Some surfers wrongly think that, even when there’s already another surfer up and riding the wave, they can take off closer to the peak and have priority. Taking priority by being closest to the peak only works if the wave isn’t already claimed. The first surfer up and riding has the right of way and dropping into a wave behind someone and claiming the wave as your own isn’t cool. And you’ll probably get hit if the surfer in front decides to do a cutback!



The first surfer up and riding has the right of way. Just like crossing a road, always look both ways before paddling into a wave – if there’s another surfer on the wave, stop paddling and let them go.

When you’re paddling for a wave, don’t forget to look over your shoulders! It’s possible that a surfer behind you will be up and riding that wave before it even reaches you so stay out of their way – the surfer already up and riding has priority.



If you continue paddling for a wave when another surfer is already on the wave and drop into the wave in front of them, not only will you ruin their wave, but there’s a high likelihood that they’ll end up hitting you – and a fin to the face is not a good look. Make sure you look both ways before you take the plunge!

If you’re thinking about dropping in on someone that has a large section in their way (essentially ending their ride), make sure they’re not able to get around that section before you take the wave. Most experienced surfers are able to get past big sections so don’t drop in on them – the wave is still theirs.


If the peak is splitting both left and right, make sure you communicate to the surfer nearest to you which direction you intend to surf so you don’t end up smacking into each other before the wave even begins. Yell “LEFT!” or “RIGHT!” as you’re paddling for the peak.


Essentially the “line up” is where you wait your turn to ride the wave. This works very well for a point break or reef break where the peak is consistent – everyone waits their turn and everyone gets a ride.  But organising a line up for a beach break is more difficult since the peaks are constantly changing. Do your best to take turns and don’t paddle around someone (“snaking”) to get the better position.


Snaking a wave is when you paddle around the surfer that’s closest to the peak and steal their wave by obtaining priority. When you’re surfing point and reef breaks where the peak is consistent and a “line up” forms – wait your turn and don’t “snake” someone’s wave.



Always paddle out around the break so that you don’t get in anyone’s way. If you must paddle out in the middle of the break (like when you’re surfing a shifty beach break) and there’s a surfer on the wave that’s just in front of you, you MUST paddle behind them into the whitewash and take the wave on the head – DON’T paddle into their path and ruin their wave.

The only time it’s OK to paddle in front of a surfer that’s up and riding is when you have plenty of room to cross their path without any worry that you might get in their way – don’t try this unless you’re an experienced surfer.

After you wipe out, quickly familiarize yourself with where others are around you and paddle back out safely without getting in anyone’s way. Don’t waste time fixing your hair, grab your board and get back out there!



When a big set comes, it might be tempting to just ditch your board and swim, but with your board on the loose, it could (and most likely will) end up hitting someone. Remember that your leash allows your board travel a long distance so be kind to others around you and keep your board where it belongs. And after wiping out, quickly locate your board and keep control of it.



There’s no need to be a wave hog. If you’re catching loads of waves, why not let someone else catch the next one? Some surfers, especially those on bigger boards, are able to get into waves really early before the wave even reaches other surfers. If you’re one of the lucky ones that can catch anything that moves, let some waves go so others can enjoy the surf as well. Surf karma goes a long way!


When you make a mistake, own up to it! If you accidentally drop-in on someone or paddle into their path, apologise. Everyone makes mistakes and most surfers are very understanding.


If you’re a beginner and your only experience has been white-water waves on a beach break, then it’s a very bad idea to paddle out into a heavy reef break. The same can be said for more experienced surfers when the waves are bigger and more powerful. If you’re not confident that you can maintain control of your board, then stay on the beach. Be smart and don’t push your limits without the help of a qualified coach.


Just like when you’re driving, following someone too closely could end in a collision. If the person directly in front of you loses control of their board while duck-diving or turtle-rolling their board may fly up and smack you right on the head! Give yourself some space when you’re paddling out and try to pick a path that won’t get in anyone’s way.


Not that we want to add to the crowds, but when you’re surfing, take a friend with you. Surfing can be a dangerous sport so surf with someone (preferably a surf instructor/lifeguard friend!) that will not only keep you company, but who can also help you if you need it.


Learn everything you can about the spot you will be surfing. What’s the bottom like? Are there sharp rocks or reef? What’s the tide doing? Is the wave steep/hollow/fast? Are there any dangerous currents? Before you enter the water, make sure you understand your surf spot. If you’re new to a surf spot, ask a local. If you feel you don’t really understand how it all works, a qualified surf coach can teach you everything you need to know about the ocean.


Boards, fins, reef, and various sea creatures can harm you. Be aware of the dangers that surround you and take precautions. Cover your head every time you wipeout and maintain control of your board so you don’t end up hurting someone. Also it’s a good idea to make sure you know where the nearest doctor or first-aider is (just in case).


We all started out as beginners so when a newbie makes a mistake remember that it takes time to learn to surf and to become confident with the ocean. Even beginners that know the rules may have trouble following them at first so be understanding. Remember the tunnel vision you had when you caught your first wave? Or the blind panic you felt when you accidentally paddled into the path of a surfer riding a wave? Be patient. And if you want to feel extra warm and fuzzy, be helpful.


We’ve all been there, so when you see a surfer in need, help them out. A little kindness is all it takes.


It might seem obvious, but don’t litter. We’ve all paddled out past floating plastic bottles and flip-flops left by careless beach goers…don’t be that disrespectful person.


Surfers love to travel so even if you’re surfing your local spot today, you most likely will be surfing someone else’s local spot tomorrow. So when you’re visiting, be respectful of the locals and follow the rules (and don’t turn up with 8 of your friends and crowd the water). And when you’re hosting, be welcoming and let your guests have a few waves.

One final note on the rules…

Every once in a while someone will make a mistake or it will be hard to tell who was in the right and who was wrong. Don’t worry about it. The rules are designed to keep you safe, not to police everyone. Have fun and enjoy the waves!

Tagged , , , , , ,